The regular season in the National Basketball Association ends on Wednesday next week and yet, much is to be determined in terms of who makes the playoffs and who finishes where in the playoff seedings. Today’s games offer a glimpse into both of those worlds where teams are fighting for playoff positioning and others are fighting to just to get in.
Note: At post time, three of the four games were still listed as ‘no-line.’
Phoenix at Dallas – As of last night, the Suns came out hot but lost to top-seed San Antonio. The loss dropped the Suns from the seventh seed right on out of the playoffs and into the ninth spot. Tonight’s opponent, the Dallas Mavericks, moved into the seventh spot while Memphis climbed into the eighth.
The two teams have split their first two meetings so far this season and the rubber match truly will decide things in the West. The Mavs are 6-4 over their last ten games and the Suns are 7-3. I expect an extremely close contest tonight but I like the Mavs at home.
Miami at Atlanta – The Heat took a big step towards clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a 12-point win over Indiana last night. The win gives the Heat a half game lead with three games remaining. The Pacers have just two left and the loss evens the season series at two wins apiece so in the event of a tie, conference record would be used. That currently favors the Heat by three games.
The Hawks are two games clear of the New York Knicks for the final playoff spot in the East. They will have just two games remaining after tonight’s contest. In essence, this is a preview of a first-round match-up between the Heat and the Hawks.
Miami currently leads the season series 2-1 but all three games were competitive. You could make the argument that this game actually means more to the Heat than it does the Hawks because of the importance of the first spot in this conference. That said, it’s an important game for the Hawks too. I like the Hawks tonight in a mild upset.
Sacramento (+10.5) at LA Clippers – The Kings have lost four straight games and seven of their last ten. They aren’t even within shouting distance of the playoffs so let’s focus on the Clippers. As of right now it looks like the Clips are locked into the third position in the Western Conference and will more than likely face Golden State in the first round of the playoffs.
LA has won seven on their last ten games and has maintained a fairly high level of play throughout the second half of the season. Blake Griffin has elevated his game to the point where he will garner some MVP consideration despite the fact Kevin Durant has it all locked up as far as I’m concerned. The Clips have an outstanding record at home and Sacramento has been brutal all the road all season.
Despite being fairly locked in at the third spot, I think the Clippers will take care of business tonight and I like them to cover.
New Orleans at Houston – The Rockets look pretty entrenched in the fourth spot out West and whether they slip into fifth or not, their opponent won’t change. As it stands, the Rockets will be playing the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. The only question will be whether Houston or Portland has home-court advantage.
New Orleans comes in having lost six straight games but had won four in a row prior to their current losing skid. Their playoff hopes were dashed quite some time ago so what they’ll offer the Rockets in terms of competition is anyone’s guess.
Either way, I expect the Rockets to roll and cover in this game.